Charles Darwin not only created the theory of evolution, but he apparently dabbled often in human biology and sexuality. To wit: he fathered 10 children with his cousin Emma Wedgwood, six boys and four girls. It was this boisterous brood that filled the Darwin’s house in rural Kent, England, while Charles worked in his study on the first draft of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, his groundbreaking, world-changing work.
Last year we reported on the huge effort to digitize 30,000 pages of the scientist’s writing at the Darwin Manuscripts Project at the American Museum of Natural History. Among Darwin's many papers, one thing the digitizers have found, curiously enough, is artwork drawn by his children, often on pages of Darwin's manuscripts.
Darwin had no real use for the original manuscript once galley proofs came back from the publisher. So one can imagine father Charles giving his kids the only worthwhile paper in the house to draw on. It seems flippant now, but at the time, it was perfectly normal.
According to the New Yorker, they’ve found 57 drawings in total, nine of them on the back of pages from Origin of Species. Only 45 manuscript pages out of 600 from that book survive, and those nine are because of his kids. You can find a whole section at the Darwin Manuscripts project website dedicated to the drawings of the Darwin kids.
Researchers surmise that the majority of the art comes from three of the 10 children, Francis, George, and Horace, all of whom went into the sciences as adults. The illustrations are colorful and witty, drawn in pencil and sometimes colored in watercolor. Birds and butterflies are drawn and colored with attention to detail. Some creatures are imaginary, like the green fish with legs carrying an umbrella, and there are short stories about fairies and battles too.
Overall, the drawings show a Darwin who was a family man and not a reclusive scientist. We’re just glad that the kids let dad do his work in relative silence.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.